Last night Mark Sanford (R) easily won the special election to fill South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. He received 54 percent of the vote compared to Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch who got only 45 percent.
There were two reasons to think the election was going to be closer than it was. The first was the only public pollster surveying the race, Public Policy Polling, had Sanford up by only one point but with momentum. Special elections with their unusual turnouts are traditionally very difficult to poll and last night’s was no exception. That is partly why no other pollsters even dared trying to poll the race.
Also, many thought the race would be closer because of Sanford’s sex scandal and incredibly strange behavior which led to him resigning as governor. Sanford was assumed to be too tainted for voters’ support. Even the national party cut him off.
Last night shows that partisan labels trump almost everything in Congressional elections. Sanford won by nationalizing the race. He even went so far as “debating” a cardboard Nancy Pelosi to show the race wasn’t about individual candidates but which party controls the House. Sanford made the race about partisan control, and given the strong Republican leaning of the district that was enough to give even this very tainted Republican the edge over a Democrat.
America is in an era of very unified and coherent political parties. Not only are members of Congress voting more like real national political parties along clear ideological divides but so too are their respective bases.
Screenshot from Mark Sanford campaign video